Growing Up in Scotland: Birth Cohort 2. Results from the First Year

This Growing up in Scotland report provides a detailed insight into the first set of data collected from the study’s second birth cohort – representative of all children born in Scotland between 1st March 2010 and 28th February 2011 – around the time they were all aged 10 months old.

Chapter 1 Introduction

Paul Bradshaw, ScotCen Social Research

1.1 About the Growing Up in Scotland study

Commissioned in 2003 by the then Scottish Executive Education Department (SEED), and managed by the Scottish Centre for Social Research (ScotCen), Growing Up in Scotland is a large-scale longitudinal research project aimed at tracking the lives of several cohorts of Scottish children from the early years, through childhood and beyond. Underpinned by a wide-ranging purpose (outlined below), the principal aim of the study is to provide information to support policy-making in Scotland, but it is also intended to be a broader resource that can be drawn on by academics, voluntary sector organisations and other interested parties.

GUS - The purpose:

To generate, through robust methods, specifically Scottish data about outcomes throughout childhood and into adulthood for children growing up in Scotland across a range of key domains:

  • Cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural development
  • Physical and mental health and wellbeing
  • Childcare, education and employment
  • Home, family, community and social networks
  • Involvement in offending and risky behaviour

Such data will encompass, in particular, topics where Scottish evidence is lacking and policy areas where Scotland differs from the rest of the UK.

GUS is a holistic study, concerned with all aspects of the child's life, including health, development, family circumstances, neighbourhood, education, friends and leisure activities.

This report provides a detailed insight into the first set of data collected from the study's second birth cohort - representative of all children born in Scotland between 1st March 2010 and 28th February 2011 - around the time they were aged 10 months old.

1.2 GUS: the policy landscape

Growing Up in Scotland is a research project developed primarily to support evidence-based policy, with a specific objective focused on supporting the development of policies and services for children and families. As such, the content of GUS is developed not only with reference to the study purpose and objectives but also to the current policy context. Before considering aspects of the study's design therefore, this section provides an overview of the relevant policy frameworks and debates.

As a holistic study - concerned with multiple aspects of children's lives - GUS potentially connects with a wide range of policy developments and a context which has changed significantly since the study was launched in 2005. But there are a number of key policy frameworks to which GUS is especially relevant. Indeed, the study has already played an important role in relation to some of these by providing evidence for policy development, monitoring and evaluation.

At the broadest level is the National Performance Framework. At least four of the Scottish Government's 16 National Outcomes (Scottish Government, 2007) are related to the avoidance of negative pathways in the early years and so are directly relevant to GUS. These are:

  • Our children have the best start in life and are ready to succeed
  • We have improved the life chances for children, young people and families at risk
  • Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens
  • We have tackled the significant inequalities in Scottish society
  • We live longer healthier lives

GUS has the capacity to make a specific contribution to evaluation of these outcomes (Bynner and Bradshaw, 2008). For example, progress towards the 'best start in life' national outcome can be examined through GUS, not only by identifying which combination of circumstances and experiences constitute the 'best start in life' (by demonstrating which factors lead to the best outcomes) but also by measuring the proportion of children who are subject to those circumstances and experiences and how that changes over time.

Moving beyond the national outcomes, there are a number of other policy frameworks which provide points of reference for GUS. These include the Early Years Framework, Equally Well, Achieving Our Potential, and the Curriculum for Excellence. Each of these frameworks is underpinned by policies that are consistent with the principles of Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC), which is a distinctively Scottish approach to improving outcomes for all children (Scottish Government, 2010). They are also linked to a wide range of other social policies.

The Early Years Framework (EYF) published by the Scottish Government in Autumn 2008, recognised the significance of a child's early years to their development and made a commitment to a resource shift from crisis intervention to prevention and early intervention
at the Local Authority level.

While it did not set out to be instructive, the EYF did outline an ideal set of early years indicators, including measures of child development, the quality of parent/child interaction, and children's physical and mental health. In addition, the Framework also incorporated some visions relating to the position of children and families within Scottish society. These included, for example:

  • That children should grow up free from poverty in their early years and have their outcomes defined by ability/potential rather than family background
  • That children are entitled to take part in physical activities and to play, including outdoors and have an opportunity to experience and judge and manage risk

Through a combination of overall design and specific content, GUS is capable of providing evidence to contribute to the monitoring of early years policy, particularly in relation to the EYF.

GUS is a longitudinal study, following the same children over their life course and recording their circumstances at different life stages. This feature permits the exploration of the impact of early years experiences on later life outcomes and the identification of key factors (such as experience of poverty, parenting styles, and childcare) which are associated with specific outcomes, and the pathways/trajectories which lead to these outcomes. The introduction of a new cohort is a key component in allowing the study to maintain and enhance this substantive and analytical capacity as it moves forward.

Through the work of the EYF Data Indicators group, GUS data has been identified as a key source of information for local authorities to use for monitoring their progress against key outcomes incorporated within the EYF. The lack of local level data from GUS means that GUS data cannot be used by local authorities to measure local progress directly. Instead, it is suggested that GUS data may be relevant for:

  • Identifying drivers of positive and negative outcomes which are relevant to children across different local authority areas and can be influenced by local policy
  • Acting as a standard for local data collection and a national benchmark with which to compare local circumstances, experiences and outcomes

Equally Well is the report of the Scottish Government's Ministerial Task Force on Health Inequalities. Though its focus is not restricted to children it nevertheless highlights the early years as a priority area and recommended a number of actions be addressed at this critical life stage (Scottish Government, 2008a). Equally Well defines child health inequalities in two ways. First, inequalities can relate to negative outcomes such as low birth weight or other indicators of a failure to thrive. Secondly, it can mean inequalities in exposure to risk factors that increase the likelihood of, or perpetuate, poor health outcomes. These include poor diet, lack of physical exercise, parental drug or alcohol misuse, being in care, living in a poor physical environment and family poverty. GUS represents a key source of data on the extent of these inequalities amongst children in Scotland but further, and importantly, is uniquely placed to examine the impact of exposure to risk factors on later outcomes. GUS can also identify factors associated with resilience including policy interventions such as engagement with parenting support services. Indeed, study findings have already been used to examine these sorts of issues.

Equally Well represents the overarching child health policy framework that is relevant for GUS. However, there are a number of more specific health policy developments and discussions which the study can contribute to - particularly in relation to obesity and physical activity - some of these are discussed later in relation to chapter 9 on child health. They include:

  • Healthy Eating, Active Living Action Plan (Scottish Government, 2008b)
  • Good Places, Better Health for Scotland's Children (Scottish Government, 2008c) including a childhood obesity evidence assessment (Scottish Government, 2008d)
  • Obesity Route Map (Scottish Government, 2010) and Action Plan (Scottish Government, 2011)
  • National Physical Activity Strategy (Scottish Executive, 2003)
  • Towards a Mentally Flourishing Scotland (Scottish Government, 2009)

Poverty is a significant problem in Scotland. Achieving Our Potential, the Scottish Government's framework to tackle poverty in Scotland, highlights the risks faced by children and young people who experience poverty. It also acknowledges that many children and young people are being held back by social and economic factors that limit their chances of escaping poverty when they are older (Scottish Government, 2008f). These risks and their potential impact are reiterated in the Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland which sets out the Scottish Government's approach to tackling child poverty via maximising household resources, improving children's life chances, addressing area-based disadvantage and working with local partners (Scottish Government, 2011b). GUS has already been used to examine the impact on child outcomes of growing up in persistent poverty (Barnes et al. 2010) and the data present considerable opportunities for further analysis in this area.

The Curriculum for Excellence represents a widespread transformation of teaching practice and school education in Scotland. Its aim is to enable "all children to develop their capacities as successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors to society" (Scottish Executive, 2004). Rollout of CfE into schools commenced in August 2010 meaning that children in GUS BC1 are one of the first year groups to experience the Curriculum from entry to primary school and throughout their school careers. As such, GUS is well placed to monitor perceptions of the CfE changes among children and their parents and, eventually, difference between parents in different cohorts. The study is already being used to collect data which will help assess what impact CfE is having on children's early primary school experiences. Most notably, and recently - this has been achieved by collaborating with Education Scotland on the development of questions targeted at capturing the child's perceptions of how the principles of CfE are being realised in the classroom. The next planned contact with BC1, a little ahead of their transition to secondary school, represents an important stage in their educational career and an equally important opportunity for GUS to capture data relevant to consideration of this transition in the context of CfE.

As well as being influenced by the principles of GIRFEC, the three social policy frameworks - Equally Well, Achieving Our Potential and the Early Years Framework - also share themes of particular relevance to GUS around early intervention and the role of parents.

Early intervention is a prominent feature of each of the frameworks and of many other recent UK and Scottish Government policy developments. The identification of early risk and protective factors is a related primary objective of GUS, as noted above. We have already detailed how the National Performance Framework, which has underpinned and provided focus to all policy development since 2007, has as one of its national outcomes that "children should have the best start in life and are ready to succeed". The particular economic benefits of early intervention to Scotland's public spending have also recently been explored (Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament, 2011; Burnside, 2010). The preventative spending enquiry led by the Scottish Parliament's Finance Committee examined how public spending could be focused more on preventing negative outcomes than dealing with them when they occur. In written evidence to the enquiry, the Scottish Government noted that preventative action was "integral to the approach to government in Scotland and delivering the outcomes set out in the National Performance Framework". The establishment of the Early Years Taskforce in November 2011, alongside the Early Years Change Fund and, more recently, the Early Years Collaborative, demonstrates the firm commitment from Scottish Government to shifting the balance of public services towards early intervention and prevention. GUS presents an opportunity for consideration of progress towards this goal, an assessment of the change in outcomes such a commitment may generate, and examination of the particular experiences which contributed to any change.

Over the last decade, the Scottish Government and local authorities have supported the introduction of a range of legislation, policies and interventions focused on improving parenting capacity through the delivery of parenting support and education (Hutton et al. 2008). Such policies range from broad-reaching institution-based 'universal' parenting education classes, such as the Triple P programme currently being delivered to parents of Primary 1 children in Glasgow, to more targeted in-home support for key at-risk groups such as young, first-time mothers supported through the intensive services of the Family Nurse Partnership. The Scottish Government formalised its commitment to better supporting parents through the publication of the National Parenting Strategy in October 2012 which is aimed at making Scotland the best place in the world to bring up children. Evidence from the GUS study has already been used to inform the development of the strategy and the study is well placed to consider the impact of the strategy on children and parents as the commitments within in it are implemented across Scotland.

Of course, it is not only the policy context which GUS needs to refer to; since producing the first set of results in 2007, GUS has also become a key reference source for practice - again, across a range of domains. Furthermore, as the policy context has changed over the years, so has the practice landscape and GUS must also take note of these changes to relevant areas of practice. For example, in relation to child health and development, the role of health visitors has changed and may be subject to further change in the coming years following the re-establishment of a child health review at 27-30 months and an increase in the delivery of targeted and universal parenting programmes. In relation to education, CfE represents a significant change to teaching practice, and the consultation on the learning provision for children with complex additional support needs (the Doran Review - Doran, 2012) may also lead to further practice changes in schools.

The proposed Children and Young People Bill will affect policy and practice developments in all domains of GUS, legislating for many of the aims and commitments set out in the policy frameworks described above. It will be crucial, and perhaps expected, of GUS to provide evidence to support the policy developments which occur as a result of these legislative changes. Indeed, by involving children in the research and seeking their views as part of it, GUS will, to some extent, directly serve some of the obligations set out to seek views of children and young people in the development of services for them, as required by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1.3 Study design

Who is involved in GUS?

The study focused initially on a cohort of 5217 children aged 10 months old (birth cohort one or 'BC1') born in 2004/05, and a cohort of 2859 children aged 34 months - almost
3 years old (the child cohort, CC) born in 2002/03. The first wave of fieldwork with these cohorts began in April 2005 and annual data collection continued with both cohorts until the study child turned six years old. In 2011, a new birth cohort was recruited to the study consisting of 6127 children aged 10 months old, born in 2010/11 (birth cohort two or 'BC2').

The analysis in this report draws primarily on information collected from families in birth cohort two during the first round or 'sweep' of data collection, when the child was aged 10 months old. A key feature of the study's multiple cohort design is that it permits comparison of results from different cohorts when the children were at the same age. Thus much of this report is concerned with comparing the circumstances, characteristics and experiences of children born in Scotland in 2010/11 (BC2) with those born six years earlier in 2004/05 (BC1). This type of comparison provides an opportunity to monitor whether and how circumstances have changed for children in Scotland and how Scottish Government policies, or other factors, may have influenced this change.

How is the study carried out?

The sample selection and recruitment, and the data collection for BC2 followed the approach used with the two previous cohorts. Cohort members were identified in the first instance from Child Benefit records, which are administered by HM Revenue & Customs,
on the basis of the child's date of birth[1]. Children were identified within around 200 small, geographic areas randomly selected from across the whole of Scotland[2]. All children living within these areas with a date of birth between 1st March 2010 and 28th February 2011 were eligible for participation in the study[3].

A letter was then sent to the Child Benefit recipient (normally the child's mother) asking whether he/she would be willing to take part in the research. Unless parents or carers

registered an objection to being included in the study, their details were passed to members of ScotCen's fieldforce who then contacted the parent or carer to further establish a willingness to participate and arrange an interview. Of all eligible families identified in the Child Benefit data, 62% completed an interview.

Around the time that families were being recruited to BC2, a Scottish Government sponsored pilot of the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) programme was being launched in the Lothian area[4]. Most of the children of mothers in the FNP pilot were to have dates of birth which would make them eligible for inclusion in the GUS sample. To allow the potential for a consideration of the impact of FNP participation on parent and child outcomes, FNP pilot mothers were invited to join BC2. Ethical requirements associated with the separate FNP evaluation research project, meant recruitment was undertaken by the NHS FNP team on an opt-in basis. The GUS team received contact information for just 37 FNP participants. A successful interview was then obtained with 24 mothers in this group. Thus, whilst FNP participants cannot be considered separately for analysis purposes, their data has nevertheless been included in the full analysis that follows.

Similar to the first year of the data collection for the earlier cohorts, interviewers sought to contact the 'main carer' of the child named in the Child Benefit records. In virtually all cases (99%), this proved to be the child's natural mother. Consequently, the terms 'parent', 'respondent' and 'mother' are virtually synonymous in the analysis that follows.

All interviews were carried out in participants' own homes by specially-trained social survey interviewers using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI). This involves the interviewers reading questions from, and entering responses directly into, a laptop computer.

The number of eligible children identified in the Child Benefit records, the number who opted out and the interview 'response rate' - that is the proportion of eligible families for whom an interview was completed - are shown in Table 1.1.

Table 1.1 Number of issued and achieved cases and response rates

All eligible children/All cases invited to participate 9640
Cases which were opted out 202 (2%)
Cases issued to field 9438
Cases where interview achieved 6127
Response rate
As % of all eligible children 64%
As % of all cases issued 65%

An interview was achieved in 65% of cases issued to field and for 64% of all identified, eligible cases. It is possible to compare the latter figure with BC1 data, where the equivalent response rate was 62%.

Differences in the way the Child Benefit sample was administered by HMRC and DWP between the two cohorts mean that the response rate for the issued to field sample is not directly comparable between them. Further details on differences in the sampling approach, in case outcomes, and in sample representativeness between the two cohorts are provided separately in the data user guide. However, the achieved samples are considered suitably similar in final composition and representativeness to allow valid comparison.

1.4 Presentation of results

Unless otherwise stated, only statistically significant differences (between subgroups) are commented on in the text. This is true at the 95% confidence limit; in other words, we can be 95% certain that the difference observed is not due to chance.

All tables and graphs have a descriptive and numerical base showing the population or population sub-group examined in it. While all results have been calculated using weighted data, the bases shown provide the unweighted counts. It should therefore be noted that the results and bases presented cannot be used to calculate how many respondents gave a certain answer.

Further details on the analysis and interpretation of the results can be found in the technical notes in Appendix A.

1.5 References

Barnes, M., Chanfreau, J. and Tomaszewski, W. (2010). Growing Up in Scotland: The circumstances of persistently poor children. Edinburgh: Scottish Government. [Online]. Available:

Burnside R. for SPICe (2010). Financial Scrutiny Unit Briefing: Preventative spend - literature review. Edinburgh: Scottish Parliament.

Bynner, J. and Bradshaw, P. (2008) Use of longitudinal research in the evaluation of the Scottish Government's National Outcomes, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Doran, P. (2012) The Right Help at the right time in the right place: Strategic review of learning provision for children and young people with complex additional support needs, Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Finance Committee of the Scottish Parliament (2011) Report on preventative spending, Edinburgh: Scottish Parliament.

Hutton, L., MacQueen, S., Curran, J. and Whyte, B. (2008) Support and Services for Parents: A Review of Practice Development in Scotland.

Scottish Executive (2004). A Curriculum for Excellence - The curriculum review group.

Scottish Executive (2003). Let's make Scotland more active: A strategy for physical activity.

Scottish Government (2007). Scottish Budget Spending Review Chapter 8: A National Performance Framework.

Scottish Government (2008a). The Early Years Framework.

Scottish Government (2008b). Equally Well: Report of the Ministerial Task Force on Health Inequalities.

Scottish Government (2008c). Healthy Eating, Active Living: An action plan to improve diet, increase physical activity and tackle obesity (2008-2011)

Scottish Government (2008d). Good Places Better Health for Scotland's Children

Scottish Government (2008e). Good Places Better Health for Scotland's Children: Childhood obesity Evidence Assessment

Scottish Government (2008f). Achieving our potential: A framework to tackle poverty and income inequality in Scotland.

Scottish Government (2009). Towards a mentally flourishing Scotland: Policy and Action Plan 2009-2011.

Scottish Government (2010a). Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Scotland: A Route Map Towards Healthy Weight.

Scottish Government (2010b). A guide to implementing Getting it right for every child: Messages from pathfinders and learning practitioners.

Scottish Government (2011a). Obesity Route Map - Action Plan.

Scottish Government (2011b). Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland.


Email: Sharon Glen

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